The Origins of Quirky Business Buzzwords and Phrases

The Origins of Quirky Business Buzzwords and Phrases

I was on a conference call with a client and a consultant who was talking about tactics to onboard customers. To be honest, I was daydreaming about being on board a sailboat on that sunny June day.

Then the client broke in to inform everybody that she had a hard stop at 11.

Everyone knew what she meant: She has to get off the phone at 11. But why can’t she just say that? Does it sound more important to say hard stop? What’s a soft stop? Does that mean she’ll stay on the line but not pay attention?

Of course, the use of business buzzwords isn’t unusual as insider jargon exists in every organization, trade, hobby, and special interest — and the best examples are colorful and have a story behind them.

Ever wonder why they call that annoying email spam? It goes back to a classic Monty Python sketch that early internet geeks thought was hilarious and conveyed the idea of non-stop, annoying repetition.

How about the hat trick in hockey? What does scoring three goals have to do with hats? Or tricks? Apparently the phrase goes back to the game of cricket — if a player scored a hat trick, the other players would buy him (or her) a hat. Or pass a hat to collect money. Or something like that. And somehow it tied into a magician’s trick of pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Some business buzzwords seems to morph over time. Out of pocket used to only refer to expenses you had to pay yourself (such as before insurance coverage kicked in). Now it also means not available: I will be out of pocket until 3 pm.

When you’re not out of pocket are you in the pocket? Because to a musician, being in the pocket means you’re playing with a great groove.

Another phrase that always strikes me funny is take it offline. Sure, it sounds way more tech-y than “Let’s talk about that privately,” but unless you were on a Skype call, you weren’t online to begin with.

And possibly the most gruesome bit of business jargon is drink the Kool-Aid, meaning to adopt or go along with a certain point of view. Younger readers may not know that this phrase refers to a mass cult suicide back in the 1970s. Yikes!

From the bizarre to the ridiculous, jargon, idioms and buzzwords fascinate me. They endlessly evolve and give our language flavor.

I could go on about this all day, but I’ll put a sock in it … a bit of jargon that comes from the early days of radio. The technology hadn’t been developed to control the relative loudness of various instruments, so a sock was often stuffed into loud ones like trumpets to quiet them down.

When I’m not molding ideas into words for UMarketing clients, I’m either playing guitar, reading, watching the Hawks, or sleeping.